When I first met Costi and Vali Gurgu at the World Fantasy Convention in Montreal several years ago, I had no idea that Costi would end up creating the stunning book covers for The Splintered Universe Trilogy or that his wife, Vali, would serve as the model for the hero of my story, the relentless and steely detective, Rhea Hawke. You can find his cover art and other artworks on Costi’s illustration site.
Nina: Hi, Costi. Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview.
Costi: Hi, Nina. The pleasure is mine.
Nina: You came up with a “Triptych” design for the Splintered Universe Trilogy. What inspired you to come up with it and what do you like about it?
Costi: There is the danger of spoilers in this answer. The fact is that your main character, Rhea, undergoes a certain evolution from a regular human being to… let’s just say something else. And that evolution has three parts, one for each book of the trilogy and it also has a touch of divine. So, the triptych design, so often used for religious paintings, fits like a glove on the entire concept.
Nina: Your design for Outer Diverse (and designs for the other two covers) carries a powerful image that conjures a portal or gateway into another world (which is what the trilogy is about). The reader is drawn into an infinite landscape, looking in, and Rhea is looking out. Can you tell us a little about how you conceived this compelling design. Is there a meaning behind the symbols and colours you used?
Costi: To be honest, the initial idea was for the red ring to be a sort of mapping device and a radar combined into one, since Rhea travels great distances in her quest. Then I realized it might as well be a portal device on top of everything else and serve all her travelling needs.
There were two options —either we would look with her outside, to whatever target she had, or look towards her. I thought that it would be more powerful if we could look towards her and see her determined face, see the unflinching resolution in her eyes, while she’s pondering her next move and readying herself to use the device once again. But to look towards her and see her in a confining room of a space ship, or such, would have defeated the purpose. So I needed to have her against the infinite landscape as the backdrop. She is in a continuous journey to discover herself and this journey takes her literally through the infinite spaces of not just one universe.
Nina: Yes, I love the metaphoric elements you’ve woven into the design. The image speaks to us on many levels. Do you use music or other devices in your work to evoke your creativity? What other tools did you use to create the stunning covers of Splintered Universe (e.g., animation software, etc.)?
Costi: I’m always listening to music while working. The kind of music varies depending on what I’m working on. If I’m writing for instance, I need instrumental music, without words to influence my own ones. Also, it depends on the kind of feeling and mood I try to generate through my writing or my illustration. Music helps me channel those feelings into the right words or imagery.
Technically speaking, I always start with sketches on paper, which I later scan. I mainly use Adobe Photoshop, but for this illustration I had to use Adobe Illustrator as well. Obviously, the layout and the typography were done in Adobe InDesign.
Nina: Your wife, Vali, was the model for Rhea Hawke. I understand you had a great time doing the photo-shoot (p.s., some of the additional shoots can be seen in the Youtube book trailer). I’ve attended several launches and events and both the cover and the model have been extolled. One reader compared Vali to actress Catherine Zeta Jones. How does Vali feel about being somewhat of a celebrity?
Costi: I’m so happy to hear that. You know, I had to decide how to treat her image. I could have gone towards a more glamorous, shiny look, like in a fashion image, or I could just simply keep it more realistic. Despite Vali’s protests, I chose to keep it that way, because I wanted to offer a realistic image of an ex-police officer: a woman who was used to fighting and chasing criminals, rather than taking care of her appearances. Now, to hear that her rougher and tougher image created that kind of reaction gives me a sort of peace and satisfaction.
Nina: You and Vali have had rich and varied careers in commercial art, law and writing. You’ve served, for instance, as art director for several high-end magazines including Playboy, and you taught graphic design at the college level. You journeyed from Romania to England and finally to Toronto, Canada. No doubt your law degree helped you in your entrepreneurial pursuits. Did you pursue illustration and design in England?
Costi: Well, three years [after England] saw us going back to Romania; our families expected us to go back to the Bar Association and behave responsibly. But after showing my portfolio around I got a designer job at Playboy Magazine! The Art Director and I launched its first Romanian edition issue a few months later. Three years later I became the Creative Director of MediaPro Group, the largest publishing company in Romania and Vali took on the position of Art Director of Playboy Magazine.
Two years later we came to Canada to pursue a dream. So, yes, I could say that my law degree created the perfect opportunity for me to discover my passion for visual arts. It took me to England and eventually to Canada. Life is funny that way.
Nina: Does Vali help you with your work and do you help her with hers?
Costi: We help each other a lot in our work. Because we worked together in our first legal job and after that in our first design job, we have become a team. We have different approaches to the art process and we have different styles. I went deeper into illustration to complement my design skills, while she chose photography to do that.
Even now, for the most important projects we have for our different employers we involve each other not only for need of feedback, but also for need of different ideas and fresh approaches. We basically complement each other.
Not to mention that she’s always my first reader for any piece of fiction I write. She’s the toughest reader I have but in the same time I know she’s also the most sincere one.
Nina: Thanks so much, Costi, for joining us. I wish you the best of luck in all your writing and illustration projects. It’s been an honor to work with you.
Costi: Again, my pleasure, Nina.
In Metaverse, the third and last book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth, hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack—only to find herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.
You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible. You can access the complete Splintered Universe Audiobook Trilogy on Audible. Read the Splintered Universe reviews on Goodreads.
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.